Editor’s Note: The Portland Timbers are on the eve of their fifth season in Major League Soccer—and 40th anniversary of their first season in 1975—as they prepare for Saturday’s season opener against Real Salt Lake (7:30pm PT). There are five players on the roster that have been with the club all five years of its MLS existence: Diego Chara, Jake Gleeson, Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe and Rodney Wallace. All five have grown with the club and been a part of some memorable Timbers moments.
Throughout this week, we'll showcase a story a day about each of the five. Five players. Five days. 5x5.
Here are their stories.
"When that ball went in the back of the net, just the deafening yell from the fans sent tingles down the spine. Ear splitting yell I’m sure, but the east side would have heard that yet. So I think that was, that moment that I was there I was like, wow this is huge. And I always hear the Timbers Army singing. It was just one of those nights that...There’s a hundred moments that are just as important as the next, but that one was pretty special."
–Jake Gleeson on remembering the Timbers first home goal during their first MLS home opener in 2011
As a 20-year-old goalkeeper in only his rookie MLS season, Jake Gleeson unexpectedly found himself walking out into a raucous home atmosphere unlike anything he had ever experienced as a pro. Named to the inaugural MLS season squad, Gleeson found himself starting the team’s home opener after injuries to fellow goalkeepers Troy Perkins and Adin Brown happened in the weeks leading up to the first home match.
Torrential rain poured down throughout the match while Gleeson stood in goal and took it all in: the roar of the crowd each time the Timbers scored, the chants of the Timbers Army reverberating from the North End, the jubilation in the stands when the referee blew his final whistle marking a Portland 4-2 victory—their first in MLS.
"To be a part of that was really special, especially at age 20," Gleeson said. "I'd have to say that was definitely my best moment as a Timber so far. Something that I'll truly never forget."
Gleeson's career with the Timbers began a season earlier, when the young New Zealander began playing for its Premier Development League (PDL) affiliate, the Portland Timbers U-23s. That season, Gleeson helped lead the U-23s to a perfect 20-0-0 record in regular-season play and a PDL championship trophy.
In 2011, Gleeson signed his first professional contract with the club, becoming the team's third goalkeeper. His goal in coming to Portland, he says, was to learn how to become a professional. He knew that it would take time for him to cement his status as a starting-caliber player.
"It takes work to perfect things, because it's one of those positions where you can't afford to make mistakes," he said.
"I think a lot of [the coaches and staff] will tell you that when I came in, I was a big kid," he continued. "I was athletic but I lacked a certain technical prowess, or technical ability, that I needed to get."
Last year, Gleeson was sent out on loan to the United Soccer League’s (USL) Sacramento Republic FC. In 17 starts for the club, Gleeson posted six shutouts, helping lead the team to the playoffs and its first-ever USL Championship victory. Gleeson's stellar play in goal even earned him a USL Goalkeeper of the Year nomination.
These days, though, Gleeson believes that his fundamentals are solid. Now, he says, it's a matter of getting experience in big games—like the USL Championship—and learning to mentally focus game-in and game-out.
"I was rough and raw and now they've refined me," he said of his time in Portland. "It's just the mental side and getting confident, getting big, getting strong and proving yourself in the games in the tough moments. That's what a top ‘keeper does."
Playing for the Timbers is a dream come true for Gleeson and an opportunity for which he just cannot say thanks enough.
"How can you repay someone for fulfilling your own dream, especially with the city getting behind it and the fans getting behind it?" he asked. "What can you really say, apart from 'thank you' and then hopefully doing your best on the field?"
Still just 24 years old, Gleeson wants to put it all together so that he can remain with the Portland Timbers for a long time to come.
"Every year is a step forward that you’ve got to take, and this year is a big one for me in terms of pushing for the No. 1 spot," he said. "I’ve been here five years, and I want to be here 10 more, so if that’s what it’s going to take, then that’s what I need to do."